The discerning British pub goer is in a lucky situation these days; whilst The Traditional English Pub may well be in decline, a smaller and more select number of gastropubs is flourishing and expanding. Popping up mainly in cities but also amongst the countryside, they offer high quality restaurant food, a wide selection of ales and an informed and well balanced wine list. The Wellington Arms is a classy member of this growing list, benefiting from an adoring local following and some national exposure thanks to awards including ‘Best Pub Chef’ and some vocal support from the likes of Giles Coren.
Arriving in the sleepy Arcadian town of Baughurst it’s impossible not to be instantly charmed by the pub’s exterior, adorned with hanging baskets and surrounded by a large, well-tended garden that includes an array of herbs and potatoes ready for the kitchens. Chickens, pigs and sheep populate an adjacent field where a sign charmingly warns ‘No Entry, Chickens, bees, sheep and pigs at work’. This attention to detail continues inside, from the gastropub staples of white chalk menus on blackboards and Twitter handle to the wooden furnishings, bookcases and hand knitted tea cosies and preserves for sale.
A selection of real ales and natural wines is on offer, with a Sipsmith gin and tonic setting up our ‘Summer BBQ’ Sunday lunch perfectly. A mixed sharing starter included courgette flowers filled with ricotta, lamb kofte skewers, barbecued tomatoes, red peppers, fennel, baba ganoush and tzatziki with a plentiful helping of cucumber.
Mains arrived soon after; a slightly dry but tasty pork chop with fennel seeds and some succulent lamb chops. Both dishes came with delicate and unusual salads that included pine nuts, chilli, lemon and assorted shoots, a welcome and refreshing accompaniment to the meats on a hot summer’s day.
After such impressive beginnings it was a pleasant surprise when it turned out the best had been saved for last; homemade marmalade ice cream and a raspberry sorbet cleansed the palette while a classic treacle tart was breath-taking.
Following lunch, the pub’s owners, Jason King and Simon Page made themselves available for a chat, and quickly gave an indication of why The Wellington Arms has become such a success in recent years; while the food makes it stand out, it’s Jason and Simon that make it truly memorable and keep the punters coming back.
Simon, a quietly charming bespectacled man, runs front of house and met Jason in Hong Kong while playing in an orchestra and teaching classical music. Jason was running kitchens in a number of restaurants with 150 chefs under his command and, despite the downsizing since moving to the UK, it’s clear that the energy levels need to keep this up have not dissipated. An excitable Australian firecracker, he is passionate about The Wellington and all that it represents; as we eulogised about the treacle tart we were proudly informed that the dish was in fact made by a young local chap, one of several at work in the kitchens where an emphasis is placed on a happy working environment and promotion from within.
It quickly became apparent that this effort to add something to the local community informs much of what Jason and Simon do, and whilst being an admirable approach in its own right, it has also paid huge dividends; I doubt there are many independent pubs who have had an offer from Jamie Oliver’s CEO to work for them for free, or the local parish council uniting to overthrow English Heritage’s planning permission barriers. Even acts of kindness that haven’t played out so well (100 rescue chickens were taken on and infected the rest of their birds) are delivered with a smile and an infectious laugh – more often than not accompanied by the observation that someone is being ‘crackers!’.
This considered approach to creating a high-quality establishment that adds value to the local community means it’s no surprise that the operation has gone from strength to strength; the conversion of a 17C barn recently added two rooms to the pub’s offering, with more in the works (a separate pub is also on its way after some nearby residents clubbed together and formally expressed their desire for their own Wellington Arms). Rooms are tastefully furnished, combining their natural rustic charm with all mod cons (iPod dock, flat screen TV, hair straighteners), bespoke furniture and some Wellington Arms touches (sheepskin rugs are from their own livestock, and Simon’s mum’s hand knitted cosies adorn the tea pots).
The only downside to such a well-kept, charming and popular pub is that, whilst accurately priced, at £130 or £150 for B&B accommodation isn’t the cheapest. That said, if you’re looking for excellent food and two of the most charming owners going, it’s well worth the trip.
Need to Know:
- Rooms 2 doubles, one super king size bed and one emperor size, more rooms to come.
- Rates The Old Room £130, The New Room £150. Includes an excellent breakfast.
- More details Beware that the pub only takes phone bookings! Our email booking resulted in some slight problems, although these were quickly resolved by Simon and Jason.
- Facilities Pub garden and herb garden, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: large flat screen TV and Blu-ray player, Aesop toiletries, slate flagstones with under floor heating.
- Opening times Lunch: from 12 noon Monday to Sunday. Dinner: from 6:30pm Monday to Saturday.